How to Embrace the French Culture and Avoid Cultural Faux Pas

Every society is different when it comes to traditions and everyday living. As an outsider, navigating these cultural differences can be challenging because you’re used to a specific way of life back home.

French society is deeply cultural, with a rich history dating back to the Carolingian and Merovingian dynasties of the early Middle Ages. That is not a society where you can wing it and integrate smoothly.

If you plan to move to France, you’ve undoubtedly chosen an excellent destination. International Citizens Group has a really informative guide on the process.

However, knowing you’re entering a different society with unique social norms and traditions, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the culture to avoid unintentional mishaps.

Let’s explore some of the ways to avoid cultural faux pas when embracing French culture.

Chill Out With Time

The French are quite traditional, with social dictates that may not sit well with you when it’s normal for them. One of these things is time. They’re pretty relaxed with it.

If you’re from the US, for instance, you may find it offensive when someone doesn’t keep time. You don’t want to maintain strict punctuality in France because people may find that offensive.

You may have heard of the term “fashionably late.” Apparently, it’s desirable to be lenient with time as it offers others room to maneuver.

Tone It Down

It’s not proper behavior to blast music in your own home if the noise will disturb neighbors. As an American, you can get away with it, as well as other noisy activities like drilling and fixing stuff at night.

Unfortunately, noisemaking doesn’t sit well with the French, particularly at night. You will be breaking the law. 

If you tend to be loud, especially in public, or have a dog that likes to cause a ruckus, you’re better off doing something about it. Being loud is frowned upon, and people will find you rude and uncouth.

Learn the Greetings

Now that you’re entering French society, you probably already learned to pronounce bonjour or salut. 

But what about physical greetings? 

What are you supposed to do when you meet people?

In America, hugging is normal among friends and family. When meeting people for the first time or in more formal settings, then it’s a handshake.

Hugging in France, however, is uncommon, even if it’s people you’re close to. That’s because the act carries an intimate connotation. It’s certainly not considered a greeting and will likely lead to awkward situations.

In France, people do faire la bise, a form of air-kissing on either side of the cheeks, but it’s also a form of greeting generally reserved for close company. 

You don’t want to go around practicing la bise on people you have no close connection with. When meeting for the first time or in a professional setting, a handshake is a safe bet.

Be Real!

Apparently, the French don’t appreciate a smile you plaster on your face for the sake of it. 

While meeting people without a smile would be considered rude and stiff in the US, it’s the other way around in France.

If you smile, let there be a reason behind it and not as a way of appearing friendly or easing a situation.

Respect Privacy

Privacy is huge in French society. There’s this unseen line you shouldn’t cross with people even if you’re well acquainted.

In the US, sharing personal stuff and asking people about their lives is socially acceptable. Usually, people will be willing to share surface-level info, which is regarded as being friendly and genuine.

However, what is considered cordial in America is seriously off-putting in France. When immersing yourself in French culture, avoid asking personal questions, even if it’s something as minor as, “What do you do for work?”

Basically, avoid being too personal with people unless you’re really close. Topics like family, money, beliefs, and even politics are worth avoiding.

Final Words

French culture is known for having no shortage of unwritten social norms. It’s not a negative aspect. It’s simply different from what you’re used to. As an outsider, it’s important to respect the local point of view, even if you disagree. Show a willingness to learn and embrace the culture, and you will soon get the hang of things.

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